LeBron James Classic Recap

21 Dec
Markell Johnson (New)

Markell Johnson

The second annual LeBron James Classic brought some of the top teams from Northeast Ohio, Central Ohio and even some out of state competition to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s HS this past weekend, as ten games were played over Saturday and Sunday. With two buzzer beaters, and a couple of other close games; the action was intense in Akron; while several of the state’s top prospects rose to the occasion. Here’s a look at the top performances from the weekend….

Seth Towns – ’16 Columbus Northland SF: One of the top candidates for Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award, we weren’t just impressed that the 6’7 forward scored 26 points, or even that he drove coast to coast for the game winning shot at the buzzer in Northland’s win over Cleveland East Tech; no, we were impressed with Towns’ improved mentality, as the Harvard signee was more passionate, energized and especially, confident. Towns scored in just about every way possible, from Dirk Nowitzki like face-up and turn-around jumpers, to drives to the rim in transition, Towns was a one-man offensive clinic with his smooth skill-set as a high-scoring small forward who can play the stretch power-forward role as well. While Towns is still adding weight to his frame, he has great fluidity and solid athleticism for his size, making high-major schools more and more disappointed that Towns spurned their advances in favor of Harvard of the Ivy League.

Willie Jackson – ’16 Garfield Heights SF/PF: On one of Ohio’s most talented teams, and the likely favorite to advance out of the Northeast Region in D1, the 6’5 Jackson is key for Garfield Heights, as his ability to excel at either forward spot makes the Missouri signee an intriguing prospect. Jackson continued to rely on his two greatest tools – his strength and athleticism – against Memphis Ridgeway (TN) on Saturday, but we were more impressed with the energy and competitive spirit that Jackson showed. With the ability to dominate the game around the basket due to his physical gifts, Jackson played the enforcer role on the boards defensively, while also finishing with 21 points in the win. While he’ll always be a bit of a tweener who doesn’t fit perfectly into a college position, Jackson’s ability to rebound with power and athleticism is something that can’t be taught, and is something that usually translates well to the college level; which could help the Missouri Tigers in a conference full of elite athletes.

Henry Baddley – ’16 Akron STVSM SF: The 6’5 Butler signee has always been known as one of the top athletes in the state, but as the years have passed it’s now time to consider Baddley to be one of the top basketball players in the state. An inside-outside forward who has developed a serviceable jumper, Baddley can get to the rim off of the dribble, finish with explosiveness or make the mid-range shot; but Baddley is probably more effective on the other end of the floor, as his length, energy and of course his athleticism make him a capable defender who can guard the two, three and even some hybrid fours. While Baddley isn’t the sharpshooter that we often see from Butler wings, his willingness to play his role, his niche for making big plays and his world class athleticism make him a solid pickup for the Bulldogs.

Chandler Vaudrin – ’16 Uniontown Lake SF: The star for one of the more well-coached teams in Ohio, Vaudrin is probably one of the top-five passers in the state in the 2016 class, and he stands 6’7! A do it all point-forward with a lot of passion, Vaudrin is slippery off of the dribble, sees the floor well and is capable of scoring in different ways as well. Already committed to NCAA D2 Walsh, located only a few miles from Vaudrin’s current school, look for the 6’7 forward to earn early minutes as a player who can play a variety of positions, especially if he can continue to add consistency to that left-handed jumper. With Lake full of seniors and playing a style that focuses on preparation and complex offensive execution, we easily could see more of the Blue Streaks come tournament time.

Markell Johnson – ’17 Cleveland East Tech PG: To call Johnson electric would be an understatement, as Ohio’s top junior guard put on quite the performance against Columbus Northland, finishing with 41 points and bringing his team back from fifteen-point deficit before ultimately losing on a buzzer beater. Johnson got points in different ways, as he finished athletically at the rim in transition, drew fouls in the half-court and showed more confidence in his long-range shot in nailing multiple three-pointers. When double-teamed, East Tech can go through stretches where they struggle to score, but Johnson’s determined style motivated his team, as the 6’1 junior showed tremendous heart in willing his team back into the contest, in what might have been the most hotly contested game of the weekend. Now with at least three games over forty points on the year, Johnson could end the season as Ohio’s top scorer.

Darryl Straughter – ’17 Canton McKinley PG: On a McKinley team full of athleticism and size, Straughter is the smaller point guard who runs the show and makes open shots. On Sunday morning against Lexington Lafayette (KY), Straughter did just that, finishing with 14 points, including three made three-pointers. Aside from knocking down big three-point shots, Straughter was also a playmaker in transition for his team, defended Lafayette’s top guards and ran the show for McKinley as he was a calming presence in the half-court. Given McKinley’s overall talent and Straughter’s ability to play the point, this team could be one of the more dangerous groups in NE Ohio if this 5’10 junior can keep on making shots.

DJ Dial – ’19 Cleveland Brush PG: While his team suffered through an 0-2 weekend at the event, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the new Brush coaching, as the Cleveland area team is full of young prospects. Of those prospects, DJ Dial, a 5’9 point guard, was most impressive in both games this weekend, as he proved to be one of the state’s top freshmen floor generals. Dial is a smooth ball-handler who can make plays as a passer, knock down open shots and defend; but more than anything we were impressed with Dial’s maturity in running his team against pressure. As he matures physically, we’ll be excited to watch Dial become one of Ohio’s premier guards.

Honorable Mention: Houston Smith (’16 Columbus Africentric), LePear Toles (’16 Canton McKinley), Frankie Hughes (’16 Garfield Heights), Ibi Watson (’16 Pickerington Central), Cryshawn Waters (’16 Akron Garfield), Drew Meyers (’16 Uniontown Lake), Sterling Manley (’17 Pickerington Central), Jayvon Graves (’17 Akron STVSM), Jon Williams (’17 Akron STVSM), Shawn Christian (’17 Garfield Heights), Dale Bonner (’18 Shaker Heights), Jeremiah Francis (’19 Pickerington Central)

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